Top River Pearl - Review Page 3
Cappuccino Bar Café
The Top River Pearl Cappuccino Bar café is a refreshing alternative to other restaurant/cafés in Charlotteville. As good as Creole cooking can be – and the Charlotteville restaurants offer as good an example of this type of cuisine as you will find – many visitors will often wish to relieve the relative “sameness” of the local offerings and enjoy European/North American-style light meals - and breakfast in particular.
The Top River Cappuccino Bar is open from 8.30am to 6.30pm from Monday to Saturday and from 1.30pm to 6.30pm on Sundays. Rainer is determined to keep the café ‘cosy’, so limits seating to three tables with four seats and a couple of bar stools at the main counter. He is also adamant that he will not apply for an alcohol licence, fervent in his desire to preserve the café atmosphere.
I have to admit that the cappuccino ranked with the best I have tasted on Tobago. It is not quite like good European cappuccino and I like Rainer’s description “Tobago cappuccino”. In reality maybe it should be called “Trinidad cappuccino” because the unique flavour is strictly a result of the coffee that Rainer buys (and deep-freezes) directly from a one-man coffee factory in Trinidad. I was fascinated by his photographs of the factory's gleaming 40-year old production and grinding machinery, which are obviously maintained with a passion. Hardly surprising then, that the coffee was so good.
I also have to say that I normally rate Trinidad coffee the worst in the world. It truly is a sad concoction bearing no resemblance to coffee as we know it in Europe or North America. Sadly, it seems to be provided by every hotel, guesthouse, restaurant and café that I've come across on the island. Within two days of arrival I am always longing for a decent cup of coffee. I was simply never able to get it before our 2004 visit. The Top River Pearl Cappuccino Bar in Charlotteville or Ciao Café in Scarborough - the only two sources of good coffee on Tobago that I have found so far - are hardly “round the corner” from most points on the island.
The Cappuccino Bar provides a reasonably wide variety of breakfasts, snacks and light meals. Dinner is available to special order – a service we sampled and enjoyed on our first evening. Although the café does not serve alcohol, guests staying at the guesthouse are naturally welcome to provide their own wine or beer when dining.
There is extremely limited shopping available in Charlotteville and this extends to foodstuffs. Charlotteville is not a destination for adventurous souls who wish to demonstrate their cordon bleu cookery skills. The one and only Mini Mart supermarket (their description, not mine) is conveniently located at the bottom of Spring Street, leading up to Top River Pearl. However, this store offers considerably less than the average British corner shop. We were able to get bread, bacon, salt, eggs and cooking oil, but had to make do with a poor quality margarine instead of butter (health fanatics calm down - everything in moderation is my motto). The Mini Mart freezer offered little but a couple of frozen chickens. The other thing to bear in mind is that most of these staples are sold in huge bags. The average visitor does not need a pound of salt, or two kilos of rice. Apart from anything else, where do you keep it all once you've opened the big bags? The bulk packages are obviously the most economical way of shopping for locals. Sadly - or gladly - tourism in Charlotteville has not developed enough to influence the buying habits of the shopkeepers. To avoid disappointment, visitors intending to self-cater are recommended to do their shopping before travelling up to Charlotteville. I would suggest the main Penny Savers supermarket at Canaan, just five minutes from the airport.
Dining out in Charlotteville is similarly restrictive. Sharon & Phoebe’s is the largest and most noticeable restaurant (first building on right after entering the village). We thoroughly enjoyed our lunches and dinners there and have no hesitation in recommending the restaurant to others. Gail’s, at the other end of the village, is open for dinner every day except Sundays, but only has five tables so it’s essential to get there early. A local acquaintance expressed the opinion that Gail’s offered the best cooking in the village. It was certainly cheaper than Sharon & Pheobe's, but based upon our one meal at Gail's, we couldn’t automatically endorse the view that the catering was better. There is one other small restaurant/café, Lynda’s, located on the seafront between the two, but this never seemed to be serving food while we were there, so we cannot comment.
Apart from these three establishments, the only choice is the Banana Boat, just outside Charlotteville on the Cambleton Road. This new guesthouse/restaurant has had a somewhat controversial start and local opinion is divided. It has, however, succeeded in becoming a popular drinking hole for both locals and visitors. Given the few visitor reports we had heard, we didnot bother to dine there.
There is no bank or cash machine in Charlotteville. It is important that you bring enough local currency to cover your stay, or you will have an hour’s journey back to the nearest bank/cash machine in Scarborough. Sharon & Phoebe’s was the only restaurant that takes credit cards, but even this was out of operation during our stay.
Charlotteville is very much a laid-back village where taking things easy is the order of the day. Don't expect activity centres. A useful trip contact for the village is Curtis Yeates of Workshop Tours who specialises in offshore island tours and local fishing trips. Curtis can be found at his office, more or less opposite Sharon & Phebe's.
It is little more than a two minute walk from Top River Pearl to the seafront and a similar walk to the nicest part of Charlotteville Beach. This is one of the few beaches in Tobago to be regularly supervised by a lifeguard. Flags are displayed to indicate the swimming conditions.
Swimming and snorkelling off Charlotteville beach are excellent and you will seldom see more than a handful of other visitors. The only slight downside is that parts of it are a working beach. On your way to the beach from the centre of the village you will pass the fishing co-operative. Opposite this and throughout the day you will see fishermen landing and gutting their catches. This means that the immediate area can suffer from “fishy” smells and the water and beach can be littered with – how can I put this delicately? - fishy parts. Mind you, a hundred metres up the beach and you’re in a different world.
You are spoilt for choice of lovely beaches in Charlotteville. Getting to them can take a little effort, and/or cost, but all are worth exploring. Pirate’s Bay beach is undoubtedly the best known and the easiest to get to. Mind you, “easiest” is a relative term. It is a good 20 minute walk from the centre of Charlotteville, up a steep unmade track with deep precipice on one side and a cliff face (subject to landslides during the wet season) on the other. Having ascended to a point above Pirate’s Bay, you then descend some 80 or so steps to the beach. Mind you, most visitors would agree that the effort is worth it. Do NOT attempt to drive up the track leading to the beach.
There are several other choices – Lover’s Beach being particularly noteworthy. These are largely only accessible by boat. Have a chat with Curtis or any of the fishermen along the seafront and you will soon have a boat trip out to these beaches arranged.
So what were my opinions of Charlotteville after staying there for the first time in 45 years? Well, firstly I should admit that in the intervening years I have become rather fond of the comforts of modern life. I was somewhat concerned that we would find the village a little too ‘rustic’.
In practice, we loved it. Fearing that we would be a little disappointed, we had restricted our stay to four days. Big mistake! We would genuinely love to have stayed there much, much longer.
Yes, the accommodation and facilities in Charlotteville are basic. However, Charlotteville is undoubtedly the REAL Tobago. Nowhere else on the island do the local people show the same warmth and hospitality. The inhabitants of Charlotteville gave birth to my love of Tobago 45 years ago. They could do the same again today. Charlotteville may be considerably larger than when I visited it back in the 50’s and early 60’s, but the essential ethos of the village has changed little. It is real, it is natural, it is wonderful.
And Top River Pearl? Well, I wish Rainer every success with his Caribbean dream and have absolutely no hesitation in returning to his guesthouse or recommending it to others.
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